Tag: venture capital

We were intrigued when a recent story in the St. Louis Business Journal reported that one of Prof. Cliff Holekamp’s students had recommended an Austin, Texas startup as a good investment prospect. Holekamp is also a managing partner of Cultivation Capital, and as the Business Journal reported, the venture capital firm’s new Life Sciences II fund is participating in a multi-million dollar Series A financing round for the company recommended by the student.

Who is this mysterious student? Do VCs always listen when he whispers the name of promising startup? With help from Prof. Holekamp, we tracked down Spencer Romo, BSBA ’15. Here’s what we found out:

What was your major/minor?

Economics and Strategy, Entrepreneurship double major, and lots of coursework in Computer Science.

Are you an entrepreneur?

I joined a startup called Cerebri AI in the fall of 2015 as the 2nd Employee. Cerebri has gone through many of the stages of startup, and I’ve had a front-row seat to the action. My plan is to continue working in AI and Big Data related startups until I’m ready to start my own!

What is your current job, title, and responsibilities?

I’m a data engineer: Some days that means that means I’m working in the capacity of a Quantitative Analyst, except with big data tools and machine learning favored over typical statistical methods. Some days that means that I’m a back-end developer working on building big-data or compute infrastructure. Some days that means I’m designing experiments to prove concepts or to discover new techniques for applying machine learning to common business use cases. I’m actually transitioning into a new company in the last week of May where I’ll be the lead developer for a newly founded venture based on utilizing geospatial data and applying machine learning techniques to extract new value from that data.

Why did you recommend Narrative Dx to Cultivation Capital?

I had the honor of playing ping-pong with many of their employees on an almost daily basis in the office building we share. Through that proximity, I learned about their progress and technical capability. They were having a really hot streak of getting good client traction, and their team had a great understanding of the pain they were trying to solve, and a viable (and lucrative) method for doing so. In short,  I realized that they met many of the criteria that I learned in Olin about how to spot successful ventures, and all they needed were partners to help them take their proven vision to the next step of realization. I knew of Cultivation Capital through my experiences in the Entrepreneurship program at Olin, and it only made sense to introduce Narrative DX’s CEO to the Cultivation team.

Were you surprised that Cultivation Capital participated in its Series A round?

Well, I knew they deserved it, but I can’t say I was expecting an email chain to turn into a major funding event and the introduction of a new capital player to the Austin startup scene! I’m glad for both parties; I believe that this is going to be a great deal for the NDX team and the Cultivation team, and I’m glad to help out!

How does the Austin startup ecosystem compare to St. Louis?

Here’s a list of a few differences I’ve observed.

  • Austin has a reputation for being a tech hotspot, and St. Louis is definitely more life-sciences oriented.
  • Austin seems to have way more startups with way less capital to go around. It’s kind of brutal to be honest, and it seems there’s not a huge appetite for B-C type investments.
  • St. Louis feels like it has much more assistance from universities and from corporate sponsors to fund innovation. The CIC is a great example of how big companies can help drive innovation by providing investment and support for innovation initiatives.  Austin definitely has less of that in my opinion.
  • Given my experience in the St. Louis startup community (I tried and failed to launch my Hatchery project in St. Louis!), I could see myself starting a venture there one day!

Any advice for Class of 2017?

Go work in a startup!
If your worst fears come true and everything falls apart in 8 months, you’ll still have your parent’s couch and a WashU education! Plus you’ll have the valuable experience of failing, which will be a rare asset that many of your peers won’t get until later in life when it’s not as easy to recover from. Taking a risk later will always be more difficult.

You might actually find out that your degree and your desired career path don’t map neatly. I sure did, and I’m glad that it took me 2 months instead of 2 years to figure it out.

Olin in particular does a great job preparing you to think critically, articulate your thoughts, and act on those ideas. It turns out those skills are at a premium in any field, and you can always learn new skills if they align with what you like to do. Plus, if you’re good, you get to do what you’re good at, and as the company grows, so does your specialization in the things you really like to do. What better way to figure out exactly what it is you like and grow into it?

It’s hard and rewarding work. At the end of the day, you might have more stress than your peers working stable jobs at big companies, but you also take home the satisfaction of realizing an idea from the beginning to wherever you decide to take it!

Thanks, Spencer, for solving “the student” mystery! Great to hear about what you are doing, your views on Austin v. STL startup scene, and your advice. Stay in touch!

The below post was republished with permission from PluggedIN, an automated talent recruitment and matchmaking platform specifically focused on startup companies. PluggedIN was founded by Colleen Liebig, who serves as an Industry Career Specialist & Advisor at Olin, with specialization in entrepreneurship.

“The more you know about yourself, what you’re good at and what you bring the team, you can then surround yourself with people who fill in your gaps. I think that’s part of what makes up a good team.”
– Mary Jo Gorman, serial entrepreneur, investor, advisor and managing partner of Prosper Women Entrepreneurs

In this podcast, Mary Jo Gorman talks about how she got her start as an entrepreneur, what milestones and key learnings propelled her to success, and what she looks for when making investments in women-led companies through the Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Accelerator. Prosper is currently accepting applications for their Spring 2017 cohort. They are looking for early stage companies with a scalable business model in the Tech, Health Tech, and Consumer Products spaces. She shares insights on:

  • What investors look for in companies to invest in and how to use The Berkus Method to better position your company when raising capital.
  • Successful entrepreneurs tend to have great critical thinking skills. Many, many decisions get made, and you have to make more right ones than wrong ones
  • When a startup should consider going from bootstrapping to raising venture capital, and markers and milestones that serve as key indicators. Check out The Founders Dilemma.
  • Knowing when to pivot and ways to mitigate your risk at each step.
  • How hiring for the level of experience depends on our rate of growth.

Learn more and follow Prosper STL:

Photo: Mary Jo Gorman speaks at the Knight Hall/Bauer Hall building dedication on May 3, 2014. Credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

My first true exposure to the real world of venture capital began when I started my internship this past semester. It has been a great, enlightening experience to see how the process works — and I’d love to share some of those insights, because I believe they are really helpful to anyone. It does not matter what industry you are going into or what phase of life you are in, these things can be applied anywhere because business is everywhere.

Be straightforward in your pitch to a venture capital firm

I cannot begin to tell you how many times entrepreneurs have pitched their ventures and left venture capitalists’ faces confused. Founders pitch their brilliant ideas using these fancy keynotes and animations and blocks of text ,  forgetting the whole point of the presentation: to explain their idea. Simpler = better. You can add all of the fireworks at a later time — in the beginning, just make sure that the person you are talking to knows what it is you are talking about!

Treat your VC pitch like an interview–be on time!

Working in due diligence, I have worked with a lot of different founders in finding information about their business model and where they see themselves in the future. This is great — I love hearing different stories about how companies get formed and so on. But, whether you like it or not, impressions are everything. And a great way to leave a disorganized impression is to show up late to a call or to deliver information late. This will, from the get go, set you back. And its not me being hard-hitting, rather its me, even subconsciously, being human. When you are trying to raise money, every little thing matters — so be on time!

Pitch your ideas to the appropriate VC

A lot of companies reach out to venture capital firms who are completely out of their cycle. What I mean by that is that seed stage funds cannot put together the money to invest in late stage and vice versa. So you should not waste the effort trying to convince a VC to do something they can’t. But you can start the conversations early and maintain a relationship with them for when you are ready!

Do your research on the VC

As a company it is just as important for you  to do your research on the VC as it is for the venture capitalist  finds it important to do research on you. You should check on their portfolio companies and see how they like their investors as partners. It is just as important that you find them to be a good fit.

This post was originally featured on Medium and was republished with permission from the author.

Today, new rules go into effect that allow anyone to invest in a startup and receive shares in that startup. Previously, the Securities and Exchange Commission required investors backing private companies to have a minimum net worth of at least $1 million or an annual income of at least $200,000.

Olin’s Cliff Holekamp, senior lecturer in entrepreneurship and director of the entrepreneurship platform says the new rules will expand the entrepreneurial playing field, to a point.

Cliff Holekamp

Cliff Holekamp

“Due to concerns for consumer protection from fraud, the SEC has historically restricted the right to invest in startups and other private investments to wealthy ‘accredited investors.’ The new rules going into effect this week open the door slightly to allow non-accredited investors to invest small amounts into startups under certain limits and with additional regulatory and reporting requirements for the entrepreneurs,” said Holekamp.

The major shift enables crowdfunding for debt and equity. Startups raising seed money through SEC-approved online sites will now be able to sell shares to people regardless of their wealth. Previously, those companies were limited to rewarding backers solicited from crowdfunding sites with in-kind types of rewards, such as branding materials or early product prototypes.

While the change is seen as a way to make the entrepreneurial investment process more equitable, Holekamp says don’t expect a free-for-all.

“These rules do not bust the door wide open to wild-west wheeling and dealing that many detractors had feared, nor does it open up the capital markets to the degree that many entrepreneurs had hoped. It does, however, offer an incremental step toward a more even playing field where average investors would have the same rights as the wealthy,” Holekamp said.

by Erika Ebsworth-Goold, WashU, The Source

This fall, the InSITE Fellowship, a premier entrepreneurship fellowship for graduate students, partnered with Washington University in St. Louis to establish a local chapter of the organization. InSITE, which stands for Investments from Student Interaction with Technology and Entrepreneurs, pairs teams of graduate student “consultants” with early-stage startup companies.

Over the past decade, St. Louis has become an emerging hub for entrepreneurship, technology and venture investment. With numerous startup companies, accelerator programs, incubators, and co-working spaces, St. Louis was the ideal place for InSITE to expand its programs.

After a competitive selection process, twelve inaugural St. Louis InSITE fellows were selected from a pool of approximately fifty applicants. The group consists of graduate students pursuing MBA, JD, and PhD programs at Washington University.

This semester, the fellows will complete strategic consulting projects for three promising technology startups located in the St. Louis region:

  • Better Weekdays, an online platform designed to make university career services more efficient
  • CrisisGO, a mobile app that helps educators and staff keep students safe during crisis situations
  • Tallyfy, a mobile app that makes it easier to execute, track and improve business processes

The St. Louis InSITE chapter has already started building its brand in the local community. On October 23, 2015, InSITE hosted Gloria Kimbwala to speak about the company culture at Square, a global financial technology firm.

Square ReaderSquare is the company behind the Square Reader, the bite-sized credit card processor loved by artisans and established businesses alike. This wildly successful mobile payments company has many ties to St. Louis. Founders Jack Dorsey (also the Co-Founder and CEO of Twitter) and Jim McKelvey are both St. Louisans, and the firm recently opened a new office in St. Louis’ innovation district. With the creation of 200 new jobs over the next five years, St. Louis will become home to Square’s third largest global office.

Throughout the coming year, the InSITE Fellows will have the opportunity to engage in networking breakfasts, educational workshops, and nationwide events. Most importantly, the students will drive impact for local startup companies through high-quality consulting engagements each semester. Needless to say, the InSITE Fellowship is already making a mark on the St. Louis startup community!